Water on Maars

San Pablo City, Laguna, the Philippines

August 29, 2011

There was more to the Seven Lakes of San Pablo City than met the eye. Who would think that this city of bustling commerce and idyllic inns sat on a volcanic field? The Philippines had been called the Pearl of the Orient, but this Pearl adorned the Ring of Fire. Much of its picturesque topography had been molded by volcanic activity. It was easy to forget that fact, especially in this part of Laguna. After all, it had been more than 700 years since the last eruption of the San Pablo Volcanic Field. Its craters, also known as maars, had since filled with water and were now disguised as placid lakes.

Granny and Grandson at Lake Sampaloc, Laguna

I had only gotten wind of these crater lakes when my mom read an article about them in the papers a few months before. For me, the province of Laguna was known only for Laguna de Bay, the largest in the country and not one of the seven lakes. Mom’s discovery was the perfect excuse for the entire family to go on a road trip. But considering how late in the day we set off, we abandoned visiting all seven lakes at the get-go. Alas, we only got to see one, the largest and youngest – Sampaloc Lake.

Mom @ Sampaloc Lake, one of the Seven Lakes in San Pablo City
Sampaloc (Tamarind) Tree by Sampaloc Lake

Legend had it that the lake was formerly an orchard, presumably of tamarind trees (sampaloc in Tagalog), owned by a woman whose selfishness denied an old man’s request for some fruit. The old man cursed the land, causing its collapse and subsequent inundation. The tale must have been the way ancient people made sense of seeing the formation of the lake some 700 years ago. Life went on in another form: Tamarind gave way to tilapia, a freshwater fish that abounded in the lake. A tilapia monument was erected in 2005 to commemorate half a century of tilapia culture in Sampaloc Lake.

Something Fishy: Sibs Hamming it up by the Tilapia Monument
TTT Loves Tilapia

A viewing deck high above lake level and a boardwalk by the shore seemed to be recent developments, providing panoramic views of the lake. But a marker told us there was more to the story of the lake than its volcanic origin and the folk tale that romanticized it. Curiously, rather than the usual historical facts, the marker contained a lamentation. It partly read:

To the sons and daughters of San Pablo:

Yesterday, after years of absence, I visited Sampaloc Lake. I sat on a step of its ancient stairs, And, I wept.

Its legend is dead. Buried in memories of old men and old women. Its once clear water, rich in myth, afraid, to peek from under water lilies. Its once green banks, lush with bushes and bamboo and other God-grown foliage, defiled by sleazy bars and hovels and huts.

Where are the crickets? Where are the fireflies?

Long, I sat and wept.

Family Photo at the Viewing Deck of Sampaloc Lake
Boardwalk by Sampaloc Lake

Water that had collected in the crater turning it into a lake attracted bad elements. The lake had been choked for decades by the unbridled construction of fish pens and effluent pollution by informal settlers and commercial establishments that lived off its waters. Selfishness had once again doomed the area to destruction. Concerned citizens of the city, however, stepped up to protect the lakes and restore their natural beauty. We still saw a few pieces of plastic trash floating on the water; square patterns of fish pens still made the lake surface look stitched up. It was reassuring, though, that rehabilitation was underway.

Maars were formed by steam-powered eruption upon contact of red-hot lava and groundwater. The Seven Lakes of San Pablo, all interconnected underground, were created in such a way in this volcanic field, now listed by PHIVOLCS (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology) as inactive. Today, the integrity of the lakes could be preserved by the passion for environmental protection and an appreciation of their cool and calm waters. I hoped the efforts to save the lakes would not run out of steam.

Sampalok Lake @ San Pablo City

41 thoughts on “Water on Maars

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  1. It’s nice to learn the legends of certain places and in this case, the Sampaloc Lake. I hope that the rehabilitation of this lake would be successful.

  2. I only got to visit San Pablo once and wasn’t able to see any of the seven lakes. Hopefully I get to visit Sampaloc Lake in the near future, and have a photo with the tilapia monument πŸ™‚

  3. A lot of places like these abound in the Philippines, waiting to be discovered. It’s good there are people like you who share valuable info about them so they get the recognition they deserve. Kudos to you on that one!

    1. Yeah, not many Pinoys in Manila know a lot about Laguna or any nearby province for that matter. Even I, who was into maps when I was a kid, never came across any of the 7 lakes.

  4. Nice to know about the tale of selfish woman. πŸ™‚

    Places like this should really be protected as they are Philippines’ pride!

    Based on the pictures, I can say that you have a ‘cool’ family! *wacky :p

  5. I was in San Pablo a few years ago for a week long seminar and I was able to go around the city since I also had a classmate who lived there. What I remember most are the tilapia…I think that is the only kind of fish sold and eaten there πŸ˜‰ and their ube was the best I tasted πŸ™‚

    1. Yup, you can bike around the lake. You can even go boating. No need to climb up Mt Pinatubo to claim that you’ve been in a volcanic crater. πŸ™‚

    1. Wow, it seems that the 7 lakes are the best-kept secret of San Pablo! For someone who lives in the vicinity not to be aware of their existence is something.

  6. Never got to this part of San Pablo when we went there a couple of times. At first, I thought Mars was spelled wrong πŸ˜›

  7. NICE shot on the tilapia monument.
    It’s always a great experience to travel
    with loved ones and places bring unforgettable memories.

  8. Great post and very interesting. I’m making my first trip to the Philippines tomorrow and will be in Laguna briefly. Not sure if I’ll have time to see this, though. I do wish I could visit all the spots you’ve described here. πŸ™‚

  9. 7 lakes.. parang yung sa South Cotabato. Actually akala ko dun kayo pumunta. hihihi! Magkamuka kasi. puro fish pen din. Anyway, just like everyone else, first time ko din nalaman na may ganun pala sa San Pablo. Di ko pa siya nabasa sa ibang blogs. Galing ni mother dear. Dorang dora at her age. ^_^

    1. Mom may be Dorang Dora at her age, but I wouldn’t let her go on a road trip through Mindanao just yet. πŸ˜€

      The 7 lakes have been covered by other blogs (wish ko lang pioneer ang blog ko!), but maybe most don’t mention their volcanic origin.

  10. I grew up in this place and always keeps on coming back here whenever I can. Sampaloc Lake brings back childhood memories. I used to lived on the other side, overlooking where you took this photos. But actually I myself had seen 2 of the 7 lakes.

    1. Wow, you lived on a volcanic crater! But 2 out of 7 for a San Pablo resident seems surprising. You should explore your hometown more. Would like to see Pandin Lake next. They say it’s the most scenic one.

    1. Naku, we wanted to see Lake Pandin, but I don’t think Mom would like the hiking. πŸ˜€ We had lunch naman at Sulyap. Food was yummy, but they should upgrade their service. More about that in another post.

  11. just love your photos and your family. your mom is so cute! and your whole family poses like you!!! πŸ˜€

  12. Thanks for reposting this Kuya. Nice to know that you have been going around the country too. Since you were at Laguna, have you gone to the man-made lake Caliraya?

    1. Hi Lil sis! Yup, been there as a kid in the 80s. I remember they still had some props from Apocalypse Now, the Marlon Brando move shot there. Yeah, nice rustic place at that time. Will be going back there this year for our company outing, so I’d see how much it has changed.

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